BLOOMINGTON — The president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP hopes the Gabriella Calhoun case will serve as a valuable lesson for both Calhoun and the Bloomington Police Department.
Quincy Cummings also noted that while timely, given a police officer's racial comments that emerged during last week's trial, a Jan. 22 community forum on community-police relations was scheduled before the trial.
On Friday, the 19-year-old Bloomington woman was acquitted of assaulting and resisting a police officer in a June 2013 fight at a restaurant.
"We are pleased that Ms. Calhoun will be able to move on with her life, finish college and embrace a bright future," said NAACP leader Quincy Cummings. "This case is an example of how the justice system can work in that all people are presumed innocent before proven guilty. The jury has spoken loud and clear in favor of Ms. Calhoun."
In an audio recording that was played in open court before Judge Casey Costigan but without the jury present, a Bloomington police officer said he hoped a black stabbing victim bled to death in Normal. The recording was not admitted as evidence in the trial.
That led Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner to issue a public statement to announce that the officer in question — identified in court as Sgt. Ed Shumaker — had been disciplined for making the comment after an in-depth review of the incident.
Heffner, who was not chief at the time of the incident, said the department was "disturbed and deeply saddened" that an officer made such comments.
A forum on "breaking barriers" from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 22 at City of Refuge Church in Bloomington "is not coupled with this trial," said Bloomington Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt, who is assisting with the forum. "We have been working on the forum for several weeks as part of our community engagement work."
Schmidt said Heffner, Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage and a range of civic and government organizations have been preparing the forum.
"The forum was set to respond to the opinions of citizens in relation to law enforcement and their practices," added Cummings. "We felt it was important to discuss the concerns that people may have and for law enforcement leaders to have the opportunity to explain what they do and why."
Cummings said he and other local officials were not aware of the Bloomington officer's remarks prior to their news release about the forum last week.
"I echo what Chief Heffner said in that it isn't professional and not what that department is about or should be about," he said. "But we want to have open communication so things like that don't happen again."